EXCLUSIVE: Application Cycle Pearls with Dr. Britney Corey – Program Director UAB General Surgery

In the third of many interviews with program directors around the country, we had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Britney Corey, the general surgery residency program director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham! Read below to hear her thoughts on the challenges of this application cycle and on what you need to do to succeed with your residency application!

What is the biggest challenge in the application cycle this year from the perspective of a program director?

The first thing that comes to mind is the technological challenges that we are facing during this application cycle. These challenges are particularly magnified this year as we are attempting to gather faculty, residents, and fellows across multiple locations to be a part of this process, all while maintaining a socially distanced structure.  The second challenge that all programs are facing is how do you sell a program to an applicant that has not seen the institution face to face? Birmingham, as a medium sized city, is so charming in person and we have relied on that in-person interaction in order to really sell ourselves to applicants. Historically, we have been able to attract strong applicants from outside the south because of our charm in person and it may be difficult to express that sort of interaction over a zoom interview. Lastly, the other big challenge is trying to get enough exposure with the applicants — believe it or not, we depend a lot on the interactions our residents and faculty members have with applicants at our night-before dinners, as well as on acting internships. That isn’t really possible this year so we are all having to adjust.

With applicants not being able to interview in person, they lack the ability to show off their interpersonal skills, manners, and overall demeanor in person. Is there a way that they can still manage to do this during this application cycle?

Any opportunity that the program gives you to interact, try to capitalize on! Whether it is a “meet and greet” zoom or a virtual activity the night before the interview, make sure to attend. More importantly, make sure to know something about the program — actually, know a lot about the program! Whether it is knowing the research interests of a particular faculty member or maybe the research opportunities available to residents, any amount of information that you know and display will show your interest and commitment. Be interactive both during the zoom interviews, but also afterwards too. Make sure to reach out to programs that you are interested in and follow up to display your interest because this is a year where that will be very important. The other thing to note is that this year there will likely be more emphasis on letters of recommendation and the MSPE letter because those will be from the people that really know you. Make sure that your letters are from people that really know you and that they address your interpersonal skills and attributes.

Will standardized tests scores become more important this year? Less important? The same?

I’m potentially biased because of my own personal interest in this, but I think that in general they will be less important because they will have to be less important moving forward. The change to pass/fail is happening. If we don’t pivot this year, we will be pivoting soon. I also think recent events have highlighted the disparities that exist in health care and the need for diversity – not just in ethnicity but in background and interests. So moving away from a step score will bring more diversity potentially because it forces us to look at other ways that applicants are unique. Hopefully it also allows applicants to be more involved in activities that they are passionate about.

At the same time, the reality of the situation is that applicants will not be spending money on travel this year, so they may be more inclined to apply to more programs and by doing so, programs will be more tempted to have use filters to screen the applications. One of the easiest and most common filters is an applicants standardized test scores, specifically Step 1.

Dr. Britney Corey
Dr. Britney Corey, Program Director for UAB Department of General Surgery

Do you believe programs will be more inclined to rank applicants that they already know fairly well (home students) to avoid any surprises?

Probably. I think it goes both ways this year because while the programs may be more inclined to rank their home students higher, I also believe the applicants will be much more inclined to want to stay at their home institution. The applicants who are disadvantaged by this are the students that are applying to specialties that do not exist at their home institutions. If this applies to you, remember to do your best to display interest to other programs, utilize your mentors to advocate for you, and try to arrange an away rotation if possible, as this is a special exception.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give an applicant when it comes to how to succeed during the application cycle of 2021?

So much of this is out of your hands at this point – you probably can’t add another research project to your CV or etc. But you can practice! Practice by doing mock virtual interviews with your medical school, practice with your fellow classmates and make sure to set yourself up for success. Do your homework so that you can adequately show your interest to these programs. Lastly, the reality of residency is that there are many programs that can get you to your ultimate goal. It’s important for you to be honest with yourself about what your goals are and where you stand academically, and to make sure that you have a consistent application that builds a case that supports what your goals are. For example, if your passion is volunteer work and health advocacy, then your experiences and letters of recommendations should align with those goals and you should apply to programs that will help you further yourself to reach those goals.

Thank you so much to Dr. Corey for taking the time to share her thoughts about her expectations for this upcoming interview cycle! Stay tuned for our next interview, which is a fantastic one-on-one with Dr. Charles Khoury, the Emergency Medicine Residency Program Director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham!

Back to other program director interviews.

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